Russia Urges Syria To Cease Bombing During UN Peace Talks

Fighting in Syria has continued in the runup to the Geneva peace talks © AFP MOHAMAD ABAZEED

Russia has called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to halt his bombing campaign while peace talks take place this week, but a political breakthrough on the six-year war remains unlikely, the UN’s envoy said Wednesday.

Staffan de Mistura’s comments came on the eve of a new round of talks in Geneva between negotiators from Syria’s regime and the opposition after a 10-month hiatus.

Persistent violence and deadlock over the country’s political future, notably that of Assad, remain major hurdles.

“Russia announced to everyone… and to myself that they have formally asked the Syrian government to silence their own skies during the talks,” de Mistura told reporters.

But just hours after rival delegations arrived for the resumption of the UN-brokered negotiations, there seemed limited ground for progress on making peace.

“Am I expecting a breakthrough? No, I am not expecting a breakthrough,” de Mistura said, noting that “momentum” toward further talks was likely the best that can be hoped for.

The government delegation is headed by Syria’s UN ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari and the main opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) is led by cardiologist Nasr al-Hariri and lawyer Mohammad Sabra.

There has been speculation that other opposition groups with a more favourable view of Assad would be incorporated into the main rebel delegation.

Asked about the precise composition of the opposition camp, de Mistura said only that he would provide more details on Thursday.

The ground — both in territory and diplomatically — has shifted since the last UN-sponsored talks broke up in April 2016, and the rebels are in a significantly weaker position.

The army has recaptured the rebel bastion of eastern Aleppo and the United States, once staunchly opposed to Assad, has said it is reassessing every aspect of its Syria policy under President Donald Trump.

But the toughest issues remain similar to a year ago.


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